Presentation on theme: "1 “Critical ERISA Issues” Roberta J. Ufford Groom Law Group, Chartered March 31, 2010."— Presentation transcript:
1 “Critical ERISA Issues” Roberta J. Ufford Groom Law Group, Chartered March 31, 2010
2 Pending Disclosure Regulation Investment Advice 401(k) Fee Litigation Update DOL Enforcement Other New Guidance Tips for Service Providers
3 Pending Disclosure Regulation Amendment of Form 5500 Schedule C requires more disclosure of compensation paid directly and indirectly for plan services, after compensation is paid. 72 Fed. Reg and (Nov. 16, 2007). “Point of Sale” Disclosure – 2007 proposed amendment of ERISA section 408(b)(2) regulation (services exemption) would require disclosure by “covered” service providers. Final regulation is pending. 72 Fed. Reg (Dec. 13, 2007) (proposed regulation). Proposed rules would enhance disclosures provided to participants in participant-directed pension plans. Final regulation is pending. 73 Fed. Reg (July 23, 2008) (proposed regulation).
4 Service Provider Disclosure Form 5500 – Schedule C Report service providers receiving $5000 or more direct and indirect compensation paid by the plan. Applies if plan has more than 100 participants. Indirect compensation – paid from sources other than plan or plan sponsor and “in connection with services to the plan or the person’s position with the plan,” examples: Finder’s fees, float, brokerage commissions, soft dollars and other “transaction-based fees” received in connection with plan transactions or services. Amounts charged to plan investments and reflected in unit value, including management fees and 12b-1 fees, but not “investment fund” operating expenses, e.g., portfolio brokerage expenses. Meals, gifts and entertainment received by employees of plan sponsors and service providers.
5 Participant Investment Advice ERISA § 408(b)(14) exempts (i) provision of advice to participants of participant-directed plans by a “fiduciary adviser” and (ii) receipt of compensation by fiduciary adviser or an affiliate resulting from the advice, if conditions of ERISA Section 408(g) are met. ERISA Section 408(g) describes two Eligible Arrangements: Level-fees: Adviser’s fees do not vary based on advice. Computer Model: Adviser provides advice using a computer model certified by an independent expert.
6 Participant Investment Advice Proposed Reg. § g-1 generally tracks requirements under Section 408(g). Plan fiduciary must authorize arrangement for plan. Advice is provided under an “eligible arrangement.” Detailed participant disclosure, including all program fees and the fiduciary adviser’s compensation arrangement. (proposed rule provides non-mandatory form). Annual independent audit of services. 75 Fed. Reg (March 2, 2010).
7 Participant Investment Advice Compared to 2009 rule (withdrawn), the new proposed rule: Does not provide relief for “off-model advice” if a computer model is used. For level fee arrangements, (i) requires that entity’s fees are “level” - even if individual agent/representative’s fees do not change based on advice provided, and (ii) limits fees received by fiduciary advisers from affiliates. Importantly, does not change EBSA’s other prior regulation, exemptions, interpretative or other guidance addressing participant advice programs. E.g., dollar-for-dollar offset and ‘SunAmerica’ programs are preserved.
8 Litigation – 401(k) Fee Lawsuits Claims by participants against plan sponsors allege: Service arrangements with “unreasonable,” “hidden” and “excessive” fees are imprudent. Plan sponsor fiduciaries did not understand/recognize revenue sharing arrangements. Fiduciaries did not disclose to participants in “proper detail and clarity” fees and expenses, including “revenue-sharing.” Claims against financial institutions and other service providers (by participants and/or plan sponsors) allege: Service provider is a fiduciary based on selection of plan options and/or failure to disclose fees, and Breached fiduciary duties by failing to disclose and engaging in prohibited transactions, e.g.,“using” plan assets, self- dealing, receiving kickbacks.
9 Litigation – 401(k) Fee Lawsuits Hecker v. Deere & Co., 496 F. Supp. 967 (W.D. Wisc. 2007), aff’d 556 F.3d 575 (7th Cir. 2009). Fidelity not a fiduciary because plan sponsor selected plan investment options. Revenue-sharing not material and need not be disclosed to participants. Because plan offered a broad selection of funds, offering allegedly expensive fund options not a fiduciary breach. ERISA section 404(c) defense also precluded liability for fund selection.
10 Litigation – 401(k) Fee Lawsuits Young v. General Motors Investment Management Corp., 325 Fed.Appx. 31, 2009 WL (2d Cir. 2009). 2d Circuit affirmed dismissal because participants did not allege facts showing excessive fees. Braden v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 590 F.Supp.2d 1159 (W.D. Mo. 2008), decision vacated 588 F.3d. 585 (8th Cir. Nov. 25, 2009). District court dismissed, but 8th Circuit remanded, holding that fiduciaries must disclose “material” information to participants, including fund expense and revenue sharing information. Tussey v. ABB Inc., 2008 WL (W.D. Mo. 2008). In case similar to Deere, court denied motions to dismiss by ABB and Fidelity; trial held January 2010.
11 Litigation – 401(k) Fee Lawsuits Columbia Air Services, Inc. v. Fidelity Management Trust Co., 2008 WL (D. Mass. 2008). Court granted Fidelity motion to dismiss because plaintiff did not allege Fidelity was a fiduciary in setting its compensation or selecting plan investment options. Ruppert v. Principal Life Ins. Co., 4:07-CV (S.D. Iowa Nov. 5, 2009). Ruling on a motion for judgment on pleadings, court dismissed claims against Principal. For purpose of its motion, Principal did not disclaim fiduciary status. Court (i) followed Deere, holding that revenue sharing need not be disclosed, and (ii) held that Principal’s fees were not unreasonable, because factored into fees charged to the plan. A motion for reconsideration by 8 th Circuit has been filed.
12 Litigation – 401(k) Fee Lawsuits In suits by plan sponsors against insurers offering group annuity contracts to fund 401(k) plans (insurers receive fees from mutual funds offered through these contracts), courts have held that insurers may be, or are fiduciaries. Charters v. John Hancock Life Ins. Co., 583 F. Supp.2d 189 (D. Conn. 2007); Phones Plus, Inc. v. The Hartford Financial Services Group, Inc., 2007 WL (D. Conn 2007); Haddock v. Nationwide Fin. Services, Inc., 419 F.Supp.2d 156 (D. Conn. 2006). Further, court granted plan sponsor motion for class certification in Haddock, concluding that plan by plan decision on Nationwide’s fiduciary status is not required. 262 F.R.D. 97 (D. Conn. 2009); compare Ruppert v. Principal Life Ins. Co., 2007 WL (S.D. Iowa 2007) (denying motion for class certification).
13 Litigation – 401(k) Fee Lawsuits Recent Settlements Charters v. John Hancock Life Ins. Co., Civil Action No NMG (D. Mass. Aug. 21, 2009) – Parties settled and plaintiff voluntarily dismissed claims. Discovery revealed that Hancock applied revenue sharing payment to reduce administrative fees charged to plans. Phones Plus, Inc. v. The Hartford Financial Services Group, Inc.,Civil Action No. 3:06-CV AVC (D. Conn. Feb. 11, 2010) – Settled for $14 million (about $7 million in attorneys fees proposed). Martin v. Caterpillar, Inc., Civil Action No. 1:07-CV (C.D. Ill. November 5, 2009) – Lawsuit settled for $16.5 million ($5.8 million in attorneys fees) plus Caterpillar agreement to certain restrictions on plan operations.
14 EBSA Enforcement $1.36 billion in total monetary results civil investigations closed. 77% resulted in monetary recovery or other correction. 204 referred for litigation;107 cases filed. 287 criminal investigations. 365,457 participant and beneficiary inquiries. 970 investigations opened. See
16 Other New EBSA Guidance DOL Advisory Opinion (Dec. 4, 2009) – Target date or life cycle mutual funds do not hold “plan assets” subject to ERISA. DOL Advisory Opinion A (Oct. 27, 2009) – IRA owner may not grant broker security interest in non-IRA assets to cover potential IRA indebtedness. DOL Advisory Opinion A (Jan. 13, 2009) – Investment of plan assets in bank deposits.
17 Other New EBSA Guidance Definition of Plan Assets – Participant Contributions, 75 Fed. Reg (Jan. 14, 2010) – Final regulation establishes 7-day safe harbor for transmitting employee contributions to small plans (100 or fewer employees). RFI – Lifetime Income Options for Participants and Beneficiaries in Retirement Plans, 75 Fed. Reg (Feb. 2, 2010).
18 Other New EBSA Guidance FAB – Annual Reporting and ERISA Coverage for 403(b) Plans FAB – Form 5500 Reporting by 403(b) Plans FAB – Use of “Summary Prospectus”
19 EBSA Regulatory Agenda Definition of Fiduciary – EBSA is reviewing the regulatory definition of “investment advice”. EBSA is concerned that definition allows some consultants/advisers to evade fiduciary responsibility. Target Date Funds Working with SEC staff to provide guidance that would address concerns about disclosure and fiduciary standards for selection of TDFs.
20 Tips for Service Providers Minimize, by contract, risk of fiduciary status. Include clear contractual disclaimers. Review negative consent process. Contractual basis for negative consent. Disclosure, timing and other process issues. Review activities resulting in unintended fiduciary status, such as advisory or consulting roles.
21 Tips for Service Providers If accepting fiduciary status, review compliance. Avoid potential fee conflicts or review exemption compliance. Directed trustee responsibilities. Ensure clear, complete disclosure. Fees plans pay directly All compensation received – “direct” and “indirect” Compensation paid to third parties Notice of potential conflicts Document responsibility and “non-responsibility”
22 Questions? Roberta J. Ufford, Esq. - (202) Groom Law Group, Chartered 1701 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW Suite 1200 Washington, DC